Contra Costa County "Clean Water Initiative" parcel tax (April 2012)
It took nearly four weeks to count the votes on the measure and report the outcome to the public. Later, the agency announced that it will take until "early May" for the results to be available.
The measure, if it had passed, would have set different levels of taxation:
- $19/parcel per year in the west county and unincorporated areas.
- $22 per parcel per year in the central county.
- $12 per parcel per year in the east county.
The tax, if approved, would have gone into effect in June 2012.
|Clean Water Initiative|
Conduct of election
The election was held on a mail-in-only basis. Only property owners who would have to pay the tax were able to vote in the election. As opposed to most parcel tax elections, which require a 2/3rds supermajority vote for approval, this measure will pass if it receives a simple majority of those who vote in the election. This type of election is authorized under Article XIII D of the California Constitution.
Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times wrote that the conduct of the election raised concerns:
- "The ballot literature contains no independent analysis of the fee. There are no opponents' statements. Both are required of initiatives and referendums that appear on traditional ballots.
- Instead, the documents sent to voters -- using public money -- are unabashedly promotional and clearly skirt the fine line between express electioneering and educational material. Public agencies cannot legally use taxpayer money to promote or oppose measures, but they can spend it on "public education" materials.
- "I have no way to make an intelligent decision based on the materials provided in my ballot," said one property owner. "This material was prepared entirely by the proponents, who are then responsible for tallying the votes. It's absolutely ridiculous."
- Then there is the question about why the election does not use a secret ballot.
- The ballot requires the property owner to sign and date the actual ballot. In a traditional election, the voter signs the outside of the envelope, and election officials extract and separate the anonymous ballot that contains the actual vote. "It's un-American," said another property owner. "How can this be legal?"
- Looking at the campaign materials in his ballot, Supervisor John Gioia says he now regrets voting to put the fee before property owners. "I am very unhappy with how this campaign is being conducted," Gioia said. "This program has some clear benefits, but the campaign is, well, screwed up."
Daniel Borenstein, a staff columnist for the Bay Area News Group, wrote:
- "Protecting creeks, the Delta and San Francisco Bay from polluted stormwater runoff makes good sense. But Contra Costa's "2012 Community Clean Water Initiative" campaign is a sham. It's impossible to discern from the $1 million taxpayer-funded study and propaganda effort, produced by an unaccountable group of government bureaucrats and their consultants, whether the ballot measure deserves support. You read that right: They're using your money to persuade you to pay more taxes. If they succeed, look for other Bay Area counties to follow suit. Maybe the tax increase is justifiable. Maybe it's not. But this election, for which mail-in ballots must be received by Friday, turns the democratic process on its head. Voters received no neutral analysis and no pro or con ballot arguments."
- Mercury News, "Parcel tax sought to support Contra Costa County, cities clean water program," December 6, 2011
- Hercules Patch, "Defeat for Contra Costa Clean Water Measure," May 7, 2012
- Walnut Creek Patch, "3 Weeks to Count Water Ballot Votes: Agency," April 8, 2012
- Martinez Patch, "Water Tax Ballot Is In Your Mailbox," February 24, 2012
- Contra Costa Times, "Clean water ballot smells," February 25, 2012
- Mercury News, "Bureaucrats engineer rigged election to get taxpayers' money," March 31, 2012